My decision to stop in Canterbury was a spontaneous one. I found this city, located in the county of Kent, to be deeply enchanting, I was really sad to leave. I was impressed with how pretty the city is and blown away by its treasury of history, striking landmarks, gardens, and culture.
Canterbury holds significant importance in English history, largely due to its religious, cultural, and historical significance. The city was a major pilgrimage site because of the Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury and a centre of Christianity in England. The murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the cathedral in 1170 was a major event in medieval England.
The city’s significance is further elevated by Geoffrey Chaucer’s ” Canterbury Tales “. This collection of stories was narrated by pilgrims journeying to the shrine of Thomas Becket at the cathedral. I studied these High School, along with millions if others, I assume because of the tales depiction of the cross-section of medieval society, reflecting the cultural, social, and religious aspects of the time.
I immediately booked into a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. As mentioned, as the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the cathedral holds enormous religious importance. I was lucky to enter right at 9am and I had the huge building (183metres long, 48 meters wide , 24 metres high) to myself for about 15 minutes. NB The cathedral’s central Bell Harry Tower is to a height of approximately 72 meters (235 feet).
As i entered, the cathedral’s grandeur becomes immediately apparent, with its magnificent stained glass windows, elaborate stone carvings, and impressive nave. The crypt, choir, and various chapels within the Cathedral add layers of historical and spiritual significance.
It was eerie to see Becket’s shrine. Check out the Crypt and Cloisters and grounds
St. Augustine’s Abbey: This ancient abbey holds a unique place in Canterbury’s historical narrative. Founded in the 6th century by St. Augustine himself, it served as the burial place for Anglo-Saxon kings and archbishops. The abbey’s ruins paint a vivid picture of its former grandeur. Visitors can explore the extensive grounds, picturesque ruins, and an interactive museum.
St. Dunstan’s Church: A charming, small church that contributes to Canterbury’s historical tapestry. Its peaceful setting and captivating architecture make it a worthwhile visit for those interested in the quieter corners of history.
St. Martin’s Church: My namesake church, the oldest parish church in continuous use in the English-speaking world. Dating back to AD 597 by St Augustine, it has been continuously used for worship for over 1,400 years. This historical site’s architectural structure reflects its evolution over centuries, featuring a blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The church continues to be an active place of worship and draws in visitors and historians keen on exploring its religious and historical eminence. The churchyard holds ancient stories within its gravestones.
I was drawn to St Thomas of Canterbury Church because they have relics of Thomas Becket and parts of Óscar Romero’s Mass vestments, the Archbishop of San Salvador. I recently re visited El Salvador and saw Romero’s memorials there. This church constructed between 1874 and 1875 in , in the Gothic Revival style,s tands as the sole Roman Catholic Parish church in Canterbury, , This church was built on the site of a medieval church, demolished in 1870, with the Tower being preserved. A stained glass window in the chapel portrays the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket St Gregory the Great, and St Augustine of Canterbury.
Canterbury, is the starting point of The Via Francigena, a pilgrimage route that begins in Canterbury, England, and passes through France, Switzerland, and Italy before reaching Rome. The term “Via Francigena” itself means the “road that comes from France”. This historic route, like the Camino de Santiago in Spain, has attracted pilgrims for centuries. The route . is a symbolic and spiritually significant path, allowing modern pilgrims to follow the footsteps of their medieval counterparts on a journey of faith and reflection.
River, Gardens and Squares
By the Water
The River Stour: The River Stour runs through the heart of Canterbury, adding to the city’s charm with its meandering waters. The guided boat tours provide an alternate view of Canterbury’s landscape, offering a unique perspective on its history and the city’s intimate relationship with the river.
Westgate Gardens: A serene retreat along the River Stour, this picturesque space offers visitors a peaceful environment to wander, enjoy picnics, and appreciate the historic Westgate Towers’ views. The riverbanks are an excellent spot for a leisurely stroll or a relaxing boat tour.
Dane John Gardens: A delightful park offering breathtaking panoramic views of Canterbury, including the cathedral, cityscape, and the idyllic Kent countryside. The gardens are perfect for a relaxing walk and offer a beautiful landscape with vibrant floral displays.
Canterbury’s City Walls
The walls have origins that trace back to the Roman era when Canterbury, known as Durovernum Cantiacorum, was an important walled town. While much of the current structure dates from medieval times, some parts have elements from the Roman period. The walls are open to the public and provide an elevated walkway around the city centre, offering stunning views of the city, the cathedral, and glimpses of notable landmarks, such as St. Augustine’s Abbey. The walk takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to complete and is a wonderful way to explore Canterbury. The City Walls were surprisingly accessible. There are entry points at different locations, allowing you to start and finish the walk in multiple places. There are staircases at some of the entrances to the promenadem so check beforehand if you need an accessible route.
The Canterbury War Memorial is a significant one, paying homage to the fallen soldiers of World War One.
Add the Canterbury Heritage Museum to your list for bringing history to life through interactive exhibits and immersive experiences.
Canterbury Roman Museum presents an ancient Roman townhouse and an extensive array of excavated artefacts, showcasing Canterbury’s Roman roots and giving a vivid glimpse into life during Roman Britain.
Every year, the Canterbury Festival; brings a strong selection of arts to the city. My intention is to return to the city and join in events next year.
The University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University are situated close to the city centre and contribute significantly to Canterbury’s cultural life.
The city of Canterbury can be conveniently reached from London by various modes of transportation. The approximate distance from London to Canterbury is around 60 miles (around 97 km).
I took the train from London St Pancras International to Canterbury West station, These are the fastest trains, taking just over an hour, but costing a little more than the slower trains. Trans also go from London Victoria and London Charing Cross. I returned from Canterbury’s other station: Canterbury East Station.
- Driving from London to Canterbury takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic and the route taken. The M2 motorway connects London to Canterbury.
By Bus or Coach:
- National Express operate regular routes between London Victoria and Canterbury. The journey takes about 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on the traffic and any potential stops.
There are Local buses and taxis available for travel within the city but I didn’t use them. I found Canterbury’s compact size allowed for easy exploration on foot.
The city is generally safe, and visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll around its historic streets. .
The average hotel price in Canterbury sits around 97 pounds a night. Expect much higher rates during the Festival, university graduations and major events at the Cathedral.
Canterbury, you captured my heart. I will be back!